Guest Opinion: Cooperatives: putting people first
It’s a business model that’s worked around the world for 150 years, but at its heart the cooperative movement is about more than the bottom line.
Since the first cooperative was formed in rural England in 1844, cooperatives have sought a broader purpose than just the economic needs of members. Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.
At the New Hampshire Electric Co-op (NHEC), we also measure our success in different terms. Because we are owned by the 78,000 members we serve, we know there is no distinction between the success of our company and the success of our members.
We talk a lot about the “Co-op Advantage,” how our unique way of doing business offers our members more than just reliable electric service to their homes and businesses. But if we didn’t have the support of our members there would be no “Co-op Advantage.”
We know we’ve had to earn that support over recent years. Since emerging from bankruptcy more than 10 years ago, NHEC has steadily improved its financial position while maintaining affordable rates for members. In fact, the typical NHEC member using 1,000 kilowatt hours per month pays less than customers in territory served by the state’s largest investor-owned electric utility. This is an extraordinary achievement, given the fact that rural electric cooperatives have far fewer customers per mile of line than most investor-owned utilities.
We are working hard to reward members’ patience and support. When NHEC was founded in 1939 its mission was clear — provide electric service to rural New Hampshire residents who were passed over by the investor-owned utilities. We have accomplished that mission and are now striving to become a complete member solutions organization.
How are we doing it? By offering our members expert energy consulting services, new products and services and lending a helping hand to businesses looking to relocate to NHEC service territory.
We’re also providing value to members in other ways. A series of “Co-op Days” at member businesses around the state have offered our members discounts on everything from lift tickets and greens fees to electric mowers and water park admissions. We believe that “Co-op Days” represent the best of the cooperative spirit, and we will continue to offer our members new ways to enjoy the benefits of membership in the Co-op.
October was Co-op Awareness Month, so it is fitting that we remember the seven principles underpinning the cooperative movement: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; co-operation among co-operatives; and concern for community.
These are the principles that have transformed the everyday lives of millions of people around the world and they are the values that guide us as at NHEC.
Fred Anderson is president and CEO of the Plymouth-based New Hampshire Electric Co-op.